Christian McBride and Edgar Meyer Delight at the Blair School of Music
On Thursday evening, March 14, 2019, the Ingram Hall of Performing Arts at Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music was filled with campus students, alumni, and other members of the community eagerly awaiting the highly anticipated performance of double bassists Christian McBride and Edgar Meyer. McBride and Meyer, receivers of numerous accolades and virtuosos of their shared instrument, treated the audience on Thursday night to a program of original compositions, American songbook standards, and classical stylings of Euro-American folk music.
Thursday night’s performance given by McBride and Meyer showcased each instrumentalist’s background, strengths, and unique stylings within each piece. McBride, host of NPR’s Jazz Night in America and a six-time GRAMMY award winner brought a command of repertoire and improvisatory vocabulary rooted in the blues, bebop, and other American jazz traditions to each musical selection. Meyer, who has received high recognition in the form of the Avery Fisher Prize, a MacArthur Award, five GRAMMY awards and is currently an Artist in Residence at the Blair School of Music contributed his mastery of classical stylings and expressions within Americana to the dialogues created by McBride and himself.
Overall, McBride and Meyers explored the myriad of techniques of articulations, effects, dynamics, and phrasing unique to the double bass to create a variety of textures, grooves, and timbres in their musical conversations. Each selection featured each bassist utilizing the full means of expression on the instrument, exploring range, harmonics, percussive techniques, and both plucked and bowed deliveries of notes to showcase the double bass’ potential as both a solo and accompaniment instrument.
A total of twelve selections and one encore were performed by the duo. McBride and Meyer took a similar approach to providing pizzicato technique for accompaniment figures and arco articulations for primary melodies. This format was used for the tunes “Green Slime,” “My Funny Valentine,” “Solar,” “FRB,” Days of Wine and Roses,” “Duet No. 1”, “Tennessee Blues,” “Barnyard Disturbance,” and “All Blues.”
What was most intriguing in these selections was the syncretism of each instrumentalist’s background and training. This was especially evident in tunes such as “FRB,” a contrafact written by Meyer based on the harmonic structure of Sonny Rollins’ “Doxy,” and pieces rooted in Appalachia such as Bill Monroe’s “Tennessee Blues.” McBride utilized an approach to his improvisations that featured a heavy use of bebop vocabulary characterized by chromatic passing and lower/upper neighbor tones coupled with highly varied rhythms within the phrases. Meyer drew upon his experience in American folk traditions mostly taking diatonic approaches with heavy dosages of blues vocabulary and a liberal use of slide articulations in the melodies. Each instrumentalist communicated with phrases of varying lengths comprised of lyrical melodies in addition to fiery double-time passages showcasing their respective virtuosity.
McBride and Meyer wrote new music for this performance which was being recorded for a new release scheduled for later this year. “Duet No. 1” featured an amalgamation of time signatures, tempos, chromaticism, and melodies rooted in the blues. This piece opened with a fast figure repeated by Meyer over which McBride played the melody. This shifted into different time feels that eventually settled on a heavily swung ¾ time signature at a medium tempo. This section was utilized for soloing before returning to the opening section at the faster tempo, ending with a unison figure played in octaves by McBride and Meyer.
There were a handful of selections that saw both McBride and Meyer accompany each other on the grand piano placed at the center of the stage, most notably on pieces such as “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” by Rodgers and Hart and a tune by McBride called “Lullaby for a Ladybug.” Both instrumentalists supported each other unobtrusively, allowing the soloist full room for expression in range and dynamics on their respective musical selections.
The remaining element of Thursday night’s performance was each bassists’ unaccompanied selections. Meyer was the first to feature a solo piece that drew upon his classical training and forays into American folk music rooted in Europe. He utilized a method of improvisation featured in Celtic-derived music in which he played varying approaches to an ever-present melody. These approaches included decorations and ornamentations on the primary melody with an eventual use of double stops and pedal tones on the lower strings. In McBride’s solo selection, he began with shorter phrases peppered with harmonics before leading to more explorations of 8th-note triplet and 16th-note subdivisions framed within a contrapuntal texture. Eventually the harmonic progressions began to divulge themselves throughout the improvisation leading to a final statement of the melody to Bart Howard’s “Fly Me to the Moon.”
The final selection of the evening was a tune written by Meyer called “Barnyard Disturbance,” a piece that he remarked as “Philadelphia-meets-Oak-Ridge.” This selection utilized elements present in jazz and American folk music, juxtaposing fiddle tune figures with chromaticism and melodic language derived from blues and post-WWII jazz traditions. McBride and Meyer explored a wide range of dynamics as well as moving into a handful of tonal modulations within the piece.
After the conclusion of “Barnyard Disturbance,” the audience rewarded the performers with a standing ovation after which McBride and Meyer played an encore. The encore selection was the Miles Davis classic “All Blues,” and it featured the repeated bass figures and lyrical melodies that had characterized each selection of the evening.
Overall, the audience at the Ingram Performing Arts Center was entreated to a satisfying evening of musicality, virtuosity, and authoritative mastery by two respected and celebrated musicians representing a variety of facets within American music and culture. Readers are encouraged to explore the Blair School of Music’s schedule for more rewarding performances at blair.vanderbilt.edu. McBride’s and Meyer’s upcoming engagements can be found at christianmcbride.com and edgarmeyer.com respectively.